REVIEW: EXPOSURE by OLIVIA SUDJIC

I was going to begin this post with the line: Emerson seems to have finally deserted me. But then just before sitting down to write it, I came to the end of a short book I’ve been reading called EXPOSURE by Olivia Sudjic. I had reached the second to last page, in fact, and there he was. Sudjic is writing here about the experience of fictionalising experiences that overlap in her own life:

This state reminds me, once I came back to earth, of Emerson’s transparent eye-ball. (“There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, – no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes) which nature cannot repair … all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all”.)

exposure

 

I found this book fascinating. It’s extended essay length and, among other things, is about Sudjic’s experience when her first novel Sympathy was published. She writes about the crushing levels of anxiety she felt. So much so that her agent advised her to take beta blockers. She did take them but didn’t like the concomitant feelings of numbness and disassociation she felt when she was on them.

This book is very smart and quite complicated to sum up but I loved it. For an anxious writer like myself, it was reassuring, dreadful and very funny in just about equal measure. I particularly loved this bit:

So why do it? Why continue to write for a living if writing is so solitary and publication is so masochistic, like throwing the contents of your own life out onto the street for passersby to salvage.

My first instinct is to stop. Though the horse has already bolted, I could shut the gate behind it and withdraw in an attempt to protect myself and I suppose recover some feeling of control, assuage some of the identity-loss that accompanies book-births.

My second is to steel myself and carry on like Macbeth midway across a river of blood because … this is what I’ve chosen to do and I hate changing plans. I would then be faced with the anxious dilemma of what to do instead.

My third is to acknowledge the anxiety writing generates as an inextricable element of who I am and that the triggers that exist there are to be found everywhere. Anxiety will fill whatever receptacle I give it …

How I love that line about Macbeth and the river of blood. Recently I’ve been weighing the cost of writing because books do cost the writer. What that cost is will vary of course from person to person. Often this isn’t talked about or writers are chary of talking about it. They realize that they are perceived to be very lucky and as having got away with something. Writers, after all, drag themselves from bed to computer (no commuting to work), they sit about in cafes, they indulge themselves by making things up and then they expect to be read and lauded. What is not talked about is the wrestling with demons and also wrestling with various aspects of the commercial side of getting a book out there: agent, publisher, the set backs, the rejections, the utter bollocks of it all (if you’ll pardon the expression). That side of it is rarely written about with any degree of honesty because writers are not fools, they want to be published and slagging off their publishers or agents is not going to help that at all. We are supposed to be ever so grateful but the reality can be far, far removed from anything that could reasonably be expected to generate gratitude.

As a writer of eight books my experience of publication hasn’t really varied much.  It is both something I am very proud of because I’ve worked incredibly hard and yet at the same time, emotionally, it can feel like a car crash. I do feel very, very exposed. Publication thus becomes something that has to be got over rather than celebrated. And this can be confusing and rather irritating  for the people close to me to fully understand. Well, don’t write a book I hear you say. But I am a writer, I reply.

Sudjic is also very good on the different ways men and women fiction writers are judged.

Female experience tells you that the personal is political while the world tells you there is something wrong with you personally and the system is fine. When (white, cis-gendered) men write even about their personal experience, they write about the human condition and, … their perspective is deemed universal. Books written by women about women are not. That’s Women’s Fiction for which category there is no male equivalent.

For my part I hope Sudjic doesn’t stop writing. She’s very good. But having read this book I could understand if she did. As for me, the jury is out. I highly recommend this book; it’s excellent and extremely thought provoking.

 

8 thoughts on “REVIEW: EXPOSURE by OLIVIA SUDJIC

  1. Thanks for sharing this review Vicky – it does seem to capture the ups and downs of writing, the times when you think quite luxuriously of just giving up all the effort it takes, but the not being able to in the end because it’s what you are…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The quotes you pulled are really interesting Victoria. I must admit I’d not given it much thought- I’d just assumed writers were skipping around with glee at being lucky enough to be published. But it must be so anxiety-provoking, and then white male reviewers tell female writers their experience isn’t as weighted as their own – grr, Why do it?! But I’m glad so many do 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Madame Bibi. The book is excellent, really worth a read. She’s interesting on the difference between the way Philip Roth or Karl Ove Knausguaard for example are viewed in comparison to someone like Elena Ferrante. She references Roxane Gay, Rachel Cusk, Olivia Laing. It’s a really stimulating short read.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What you must do is write a book about an author who is also a serial killer, with a nice line in gruesome murders of agents, editors, publishers, reviewers, etc., – especially those who are mean about her work. Then send it round to agents, editors, publishers, reviewers, etc…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha ha … I like your thinking FF. I’m trying to think of murders set in publishers. There was a Dorothy Sayers wasn’t there ??? or was that advertising. And PD James definitely did one. There was a particularly gruesome agent in the first JK writing as Robert Galbraith. When it was televised I turned somewhat wearily to my partner and said ‘It’s the agent.’ The agent was to put it mildly floridly written and turned out to be a homicidal maniac.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Got away with something!! Got away with something!!
    With 2 of my oldest friends being writers (and a lot of my new ones as it goes), I can assure everyone that there is not one drop of getting away with it. I know only too well the excruciating trek you writers go on when choosing to put your art out there. I marvel at how you continue to choose to do it.
    But we are all so glad you do!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I’m sure you’ve probably had some pretty extraordinary responses to telling people you’re an artist. People can be incredibly hostile. A common exchange for me is…
      Q. What do you do?
      A. I’m a writer
      Q. Are you published.
      A. Yes.
      Q What’s your name? Should I have heard of you?
      A. No.
      Q Make any money at it?
      A. At this point my response varies!
      I always like the money question because its as if your worth/quality as an artist/writer is only measured in the amount of money you make as opposed to in the quality of your work

      Like

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